Double Shadow

Overview

A stunning new collection of poems from the author of Speak Low

Comparing any human life to “a restless choir” of impulses variously in conflict and at peace with one another, Carl Phillips, in his eleventh book, examines the double shadow that a life casts forth: “now risk, and now / faintheartedness.” In poems that both embody and inhabit this double shadow, risk and faintheartedness prove to have the power equally to rescue us from ourselves and to destroy us. Spare, haunted,...

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Double Shadow: Poems

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Overview

A stunning new collection of poems from the author of Speak Low

Comparing any human life to “a restless choir” of impulses variously in conflict and at peace with one another, Carl Phillips, in his eleventh book, examines the double shadow that a life casts forth: “now risk, and now / faintheartedness.” In poems that both embody and inhabit this double shadow, risk and faintheartedness prove to have the power equally to rescue us from ourselves and to destroy us. Spare, haunted, and haunting, yet not without hope, Double Shadow argues for life as a wilderness through which there’s only the questing forward—with no regrets and no looking back.

 

Double Shadow is a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry

Winner of the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for PoetryA Boston Globe Best Poetry Book of 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“We’re not what / either of us expected, / are we?” Carl Phillips asks in his new book, Double Shadow. It’s a good question, and it’s one that raises another question, not only in this particular poem but through much of the book: whom, precisely, is the speaker addressing? The reader, perhaps - in which case we feel, or ought to feel, implicated and challenged. Or, quite plausibly, the question is directed toward a friend or lover, or a parent or child. But the thought also crosses one’s mind—it’s bound to—that it is the world itself that is here being both addressed and accused. It is often claimed, after all, that a lyric poem is a record of an encounter between the self and the world. And in Phillips’ delicately beautiful but highly unstable universe, both self and world are the sort of things that seem to fail, more often than not, to behave as one might have expected . . . In some ways the perpetually shifting textures and shardlike quality of Phillips’ language are reminiscent of John Ashbery, that pre-eminent poet of modern consciousness. But where Ashbery’s universe is a theater of nihilistic yet playful hijinks, Phillips’ is a somber, autumnal landscape, one that is illuminated by moments of ephemeral, ethereal beauty. The world of “Double Shadow” is an old world, a faded, tired and depleted world: it is late in the day, the major events have already happened, the light is fading, and darkness will soon be upon us.” —Troy Jollimore, The Chicago Tribune

[Phillips’] prayer-like poems create a magical, paganistic landscape that seems to offer visual sublimation for spiritual struggle, neither defying nor accepting skepticism. It is as if one were to re-learn through Phillips’ mystical imagery how to pray—a new kind of prayer inspired by faith, disbelief, or even the inability to choose between the two . . . Striking images, which replace both faith and disbelief within the prayer-poems, accumulate one by one to create a distinct spiritual idiom that unites the entire collection . . . Phillips’ visual poetry redirects the unresolved spirituality toward beauty and art . . . If the two preexisting lives are those of disbelief and faith, a third kind of spirituality burgeons in Double Shadow—a landscape through which Phillips’ stunning mastery of verse and imagery emanates.” —Shijung Kim, The Harvard Crimson

“There are gorgeous moments of candor and unrestrained humanity in this collection, but for all its striking human sensitivity, there are still dark spaces in Double Shadow that are classic Carl Phillips. Even in its darkest lines, Double Shadow embodies a twisted sense of optimism . . . Double Shadow fully embodies the tension between unwillingness and inability, resignation and despair. It manages to wring hope out of pain and torture in a way that makes you wonder how anyone who hasn’t had their heart broken can ever be sincere.” —Julie Dill, St. Louis Magazine

Publishers Weekly
This 11th collection continues Phillips's assays into the connections between sex, attachment, and love, and the ways that, despite ecstatic moments, adult life means reconciling oneself to one's collective inadequacy. Phillips's peculiar fusion of classical figures, biblical imagery, and contemporary alienation is in full flower in poems like "Ransom," to startling effect: "come/ clean again, from a thicket all thorns.... And how the stars/ swelled the dark, guiding the man whose whip made the mules go faster, though they would have/ run, I think, even had there been no whip, being mules, and/ broken long ago, and with no more belief than disbelief in rescue." The poems repeatedly delve into intrarelationship incarnations of big moral quandaries. "Sacrifice Is a Different Animal Altogether" ends: "One of us is going to have to say it first"; in "Master and Slave," a partner offers a tender admonition: "If you can't love everything, he said/ Try to love what, in the end, will matter." But on the whole, the collection works, carefully and deliberately, to affirm the rhetorical question of "Sky Coming Forward": "What if, between this one and the one/ we hoped for, there's a third life, taking its own/ slow, dreamlike hold, even now—blooming, in spite of us." (Apr.)
Library Journal
There's an art/ to everything. Even/ turning away. How/ eventually even hunger/ can become a space/ to live in." Phillips's latest volume (after 2009's Speak Low) examines the double shadows (the shadow under/behind the shadow) that existence casts on human lives. His poems seem to live inside these shadows, casting their own kinds of light through layers of darkness. His lyrical lines meander, sometimes for stanzas, and they aren't always clear or understandable until they've gone by. Yet the reader is left with silhouettes of images that disturb and startle, like the field that "divides prayer from/ absolute defeat," like "snow caught/ flying over open water from a fast-moving train," like the deadly but elegant hawk's flight. Motion and stillness, wickedness and joy, love and a way of loving, gratitude and regret: doubling haunts this volume. "What if, between this one and the one/ we hoped for, there is a third life, taking its own/ slow dreamlike hold, even now—blooming, in spite of us?" VERDICT Highly recommended for readers of contemporary poetry.—Karla Huston, Wisconsin Acad. of Science, Arts & Letters, Madison
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374533151
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/27/2012
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 806,773
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Carl Phillips is the author of ten previous books of poems, including Speak Low; Quiver of Arrows: Selected Poems, 1986–2006; Riding Westward; and The Rest of Love, a National Book Award finalist. He teaches at Washington University in St. Louis.

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